By 2050, plane trips between the U.S. and Europe could take longer, use more fuel and be subject to more turbulence, according to a new study.
The study investigated clear-air turbulence, or turbulence that occurs in clear sky instead of inside clouds or near mountains. Clear-air turbulence is impossible for pilots to spot or radar to detect, but models do exist to predict where and when it will occur. Two climate researchers in the U.K. combined different models to come up with a calculation for how a doubling in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, compared to pre-industrial levels, could affect clear-air turbulence. (In one of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's four possible future scenarios for climate change, carbon dioxide levels double by the middle of the 21st century.)
In the new hybrid model, twice as much carbon dioxide in the air would increase median clear-air turbulence strength along common transatlantic routes by 41 percent. Turbulence of at least moderate severity would happen 40 percent to 170 percent more often. Carbon dioxide increases strengthen jet streams, which are a major driving factor in clear-air turbulence.